Travel

The Most Beautiful Hikes in Michigan's Upper Peninsula

Escarpment Trail in the Porcupine Mountains
Escarpment Trail in the Porcupine Mountains | Layne Kennedy/Corbis Documentary/Getty
Escarpment Trail in the Porcupine Mountains | Layne Kennedy/Corbis Documentary/Getty

With its seemingly endless trees, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, and shorelines and seemingly zero people, the Upper Peninsula is Michigan at its purest… and its most unexplored. Home to some of the best hiking in the nation, iIt basically feels like another country altogether.  No wonder Yoopers want it all to themselves.

As we look for ways to get out of the house safely during this period of social isolation, Northern Michigan has been given the go-ahead to open up. And these 18 exemplary hikes for all skill levels are an opportunity to enjoy the best of Michigan responsibly. Pack some bug spray, and be ready to be awed.

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Porcupine Mountains Escarpment Trail

Ontonagon
Distance: 8 miles, out and back
Difficulty: Intermediate
Best for: Seasoned hikers 
Accommodations: Mountain View Lodges are cozy and equipped, right on a beach of beautiful Gitche Gumee and just 3 miles from Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park. Or camp in the park, if that’s your thing. 

There are numerous great trails throughout the Porkies, all interconnected, but the Escarpment Trail is easily the most well-known and the most dramatic. The somewhat challenging 4-mile trail (one-way!) takes you along a ridge with three peaks: Cuyahoga, Cloud, and Miscawabic. Lake Superior is on one side, and the shimmering Lake of the Clouds is on the other, at the bottom of 400-foot cliff drops. If you want to get into the backcountry and away from the selfie sticks at the Lake of the Clouds parking area (as remarkably stunning of a view as it is), this trail helps you cover some of the best ground in the Porkies. 

MORE: Porcupine Mountains is one of America's greatest state parks

Bond Falls 

Bruce Crossing
Distance: Less than a mile loop
Difficulty: Easy
Best for: Chasing waterfalls 
Accommodations:Running Bear Resort offers rustic but comfy secluded cabins with a general store and a BBQ pit.

Part of the Ottawa National Forest, this striking 50-foot-waterfall that nobody talks about is easy to arrive at and hard to leave. With trails leading up to the top of this cascade -- which looks like a finely poured Guinness, by the way -- there are plenty of rocks to perch atop and enjoy the vibes of the heavy-flowing Ontonagon River. Nearby Agate Falls has a picnic area and lookout, and requires a bit less to reach its 39 foot cascade. 

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Brockway Mountain

Copper Harbor
Distance: 9 miles point to point, or you just drive to the top and take a 1.6 mile trail
Difficulty: Easy
Best for: Cyclists and amateur yodelers wishing to develop their practice 

Brockway Mountain Drive is a roughly 9-mile scenic drive to the top of the 1,328-foot mountain, which towers 720 feet above Lake Superior. At the top of the mountain, you'll have a panoramic view of Lake Superior, Lake Medora, Mount Baldy, Lake Bailey, Copper Harbor, and Eagle Harbor, but it's also worth getting out of your car along the drive at the Brockway Mountain Audubon Sanctuary trailhead, a moderate and clearly marked 1.6-mile trail through the woods on the east side of the mountain. Pro tip: Arrive early to snag a good spot for the sunset, then stay for a glimpse of the Northern Lights. 

Mount Baldy

Eagle Harbor
Distance: 6.5 miles in and out (or rather, up and down)
Difficulty: Intermediate
Best for: People who want to work on their beach butts
Accommodations: Cedar Point Cabins are darn near perfect and right on Lake Bailey, ideal for kayaking and exploring the Keweenaw

Hate the crowds at Brockway Mountain? Skip them and head to Mount Baldy, where the lack of a paved road to the top and a 3-mile uphill hike to the summit means that only the truly committed hikers make the trek This hike is a solid workout without being too much, and rewards some excellent views of nearby Lake Bailey and the surrounding forest. 
MORE: Reward your climb with a drink at Michigan's best small-town beer bar

michigan hikes
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Hunter's Point Park

Copper Harbor
Distance: 1.6-4.3 miles 
Difficulty: Easy to intermediate
Best for: Feeling on top of the world, at the northern tip of the Keweenaw. 
Accommodations: The humble and cozy Brockway Inn is downtown and close to all hiking, restaurants, and bars in the Copper Harbor area

If you're into flora and fauna, there's plenty of both to spot  along the Lake Superior shoreline at this preservation project park. Or if you just want to go play on the black basalt rocks -- the oldest kind of rock on the planet -- that's cool, too.From this park, there are two trailheads to choose from: The Flow and Overflow Loop (4.3 miles) and the North Point Trail (1.6 miles out and back). The former is also used as a mountain bike trail. 

michigan hikes
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Bare Bluff

Copper Harbor
Distance: 3-mile loop
Difficulty: Intermediate
Best for: People who hike for a view and have appropriate footwear  

One of the more strenuous hikes in the UP, Bare Bluff is located on the southern shore of the Keweenaw Peninsula near Lac La Belle, rising to a 600-foot peak above water. The Russell and Miriam Grinnell Memorial Nature Sanctuary there is a 3-mile trail loop that climbs up the side of the mountain, often alongside sheer cliffs hundreds of feet above the forest floor, up and down rockslides and dry waterfalls to the summit, offering beautiful views of Bete Grise Bay and the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The loop itself is equivalent to a 30-story climb, and many parts of this trail are not clearly marked, so it’s not ideal for inexperienced hikers.

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Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary

Copper Harbor
Distance: 1.5 mile loop
Difficulty: Easy
Best for: Those with a keen sense of smell: no candle on Earth could replicate the pine scent of this trail

Located on the Keweenaw Peninsula just outside of Copper Harbor is the 508-acre Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary. Some of said pines are over 600 years old and are between 130 and 150ft tall, representing some of the last remaining old-growth virgin white pines in the Midwest. Two different trail loops run through this living museum; both are about a mile long and are well-marked, easy hikes with much of the trails covered in boards, creating a "foot bridge" through the forest. The Sanctuary is also home to some 85 bird species for birdwatchers.

Eben Ice Caves

Eben Junction
Distance: 2.3 miles, out and back
Difficulty: Intermediate 
Best for: People who like to wear snowshoes
Accommodations: Shack up in this beautiful house overlooking the Au Train River

Sure, no one wants to read about ice in the summer unless we’re talking about a margarita, but the Upper Peninsula should not be overlooked for one of its most incredible natural phenomena: ice caves (and ice climbing). If you do go in the winter, wear appropriate attire (as in ice cleats) and you will get a remarkable experience of trudging through the snow and into these beautiful caverns of ice, kinda like Frozen but without the singing . If you’re not into snow hikes, enjoy this 2.3 mile out and back trail that is part of the Rock River Canyon Wilderness in the Hiawatha National Forest. 
MORE: Zone out to these wild photos of frozen waterfalls from across the country

Beaver Lake Loop

Grand Marais
Distance: Nine mile loop
Difficulty: Intermediate
Best for: Birdwatchers and wildflower lovers
Accommodations: Book an adorbs studio cabin right along Lake Superior and the eastern edge of Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore

This nine-mile loop of moderate trekking is about as peaceful and heavenly as it gets, as long as you’re into lakes and forests --  which, if you’re hanging out in Michigan, we assume you are. Every bend around this appropriately challenging hike is a stunner. Dress appropriately for bug season in the early summer lest you turn into a buffet for black flies, but late summer and early fall are a dreamy time to traverse the trail. You might get lucky and see bears, moose, or wolves which are all reported in this area. 

Two Hearted River
Two Hearted River | dchrisoh/Flickr

Two Hearted River

Grand Marais
Distance: 2.8 miles out and back
Difficulty: Easy
Best for: River rats and poets

This easy in-and-out trail offers spectacular views of one of Michigan’s most iconic rivers, the Two Hearted. The wooded trail takes you to the mouth of the river that inspired some of Hemingway’s early writings, as it passes alongside Superior’s northern shoreline just outside of the picturesque vacation town of Grand Marais. It’s all but required to have a couple of Bell’s Two Hearted Ales on tap for a post-hike salut.  

Canyon Falls Scenic Area
Canyon Falls Scenic Area | ehrlif/Shutterstock

Canyon Gorge Trail

L’Anse
Distance: 4 miles out and back
Difficulty: Intermediate
Best for: Stretching those pasty-enhanced legs... and seeing a gorge
Accommodations: LaRose Wellness Retreat bed and breakfast along the Keweenaw Bay is complete with kayaks, a pool, and a Finnish sauna

If you're driving along US 41 between Houghton and Marquette, the Canyon Falls Roadside Park is an ideal stopoff. The easy trail, complete with some boardwalk areas, allows you to view the "Grand Canyon of the Upper Peninsula": the 15-foot Canyon Falls along the black Sturgeon River and gorge. It's quick, and scenic, for those who want the full hiking experience without all that... er, hiking. For those who do want a little extra, use this as a starting or ending point for a number of hikes that go into the Baraga Plains Wildlife Area, the low-trafficked Sturgeon River Gorge Wilderness, and the seemingly endless Hiawatha National Forest.  

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Sugarloaf Mountain

Marquette
Distance: 1 mile round-trip
Difficulty: Intermediate (depending on how you handle stairs) 
Best for: People who want to spruce up those COVID-19 glutes
Accommodations: Book a night at this lovely cottage in downtown Marquette, or brave a night in the iconic and haunted Landmark

Sugarloaf Mountain was formerly a ski resort and is now a destination for hikers, wildlife-watchers, and view-seekers. There are two ways to climb the half-mile up: the easy way consists of 304 wooden steps, while the hard way is up through the rugged mountain forest.

There are several North Country system trails -- 4,600 miles of trails that stretch across seven states -- that intersect on Sugarloaf Mountain; if you take the largely unmarked hard way and are not familiar with the area or the trails, it would be most helpful to have a map and compass handy. The trail is marked, but markers are spaced few and far between and are often difficult to spot. The easy trail is ideal for beginners and families (so long as no one has problems with stairs). At the peak is a large wooden deck with multiple sections for checking out the 360-degree view of Lake Superior, Downtown Marquette, and the surrounding forests.

Little Presque Isle
Little Presque Isle | Posnov/Moment Open/Getty

Wetmore Landing and Little Presque Isle

Marquette
Distance: 3.6 miles out and back
Difficulty: Easy
Best for: Wildflower sightings and fall colors 

The Sugarloaf Mountain parking area is also the trailhead for Wetmore Landing Shoreline Trail, which offers a relatively easy trail from the beach and along the Lake Superior shoreline to Little Presque Isle, the cutest densely forested little island in the lake. There are rocks and tree roots, but the path is very clearly marked and there are few obstructions.

Cathedral Sea Cave
Cathedral Sea Cave on Grand Island | Dean Pennala/Shutterstock

Grand Island Loop

Munising
Distance: 20-mile loop
Difficulty: Intermediate (only for the distance) 
Best for: Those looking to sneak off the mainland for a hot minute 
Accomodations: Indulge in some serious glamping at Grand Island Cabins
If you’re into it to win it, Grand Island -- with its 20-mile hiking loop alongside old lighthouses and 300-foot sandstone cliffs -- is one of Michigan’s most accessible recreational islands. Biking and hiking are permitted on the island, and as such, you can come for a day or several. 

Wildflowers, migratory Monarch butterflies, and sandy beaches are the main draws in the summer, though the fall is an exceptional time to visit as well, with ferry service from Munising in service into October. You can arrive by canoe or kayak, and in the winter those crazy Yoopers even just snowmobile the half mile of ice from coast. 
MORE:  The Pictured Rocks area is one big psychedelic playground

Miners Falls

Munising
Distance: 1.2 miles, in and out
Difficulty: Easy
Best for: Waterfall enthusiasts
Accommodations: Book this fit-for-a-family cottage just west of downtown Munising. 

A gravel path makes getting to Miners Falls extra easy, leading to a place where where the Miners River drops 50ft over a sandstone outcrop. A wooden staircase will take you 77 steps down to the lower viewing platform for the falls. The whole thing is more of a leg stretch than a hike, but it sure is a nice view for minimal time and physical commitment. 
When you’re done, hit the nearby Miner’s Beach; its mile-long sandy shoreline is one of the finest in Michigan. If you catch it on a warm and sunny day, take a dip in the spiritual entity known as Lake Superior. You’re pretty much obligated to dip into the frigid waters when you’re so close, as long as it’s not snowing, so best to work up a little sweat hiking first.

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Mosquito Falls and Mosquito Beach

Munising
Distance: 4 miles out and back
Difficulty: Easy
Best for: Those looking for a remarkable and remote place to meander 

Another gem of the 90-mile Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, the Chapel Basin-Mosquito Beach area of Pictured Rocks offers a number of different trails and scenic sights, among them Chapel Falls, Chapel Rock, Chapel Lake, Spray Falls, Mosquito Beach, and Mosquito Falls.

To get there, you have to drive five miles down the all-dirt Chapel Road. At the edge of the parking lot are the trailheads for the Mosquito Beach area on the left and the Chapel Basin area on the right. If you follow the left, you will hike through the forest .6 of a mile to the picturesque Mosquito Falls, which cascade over 8ft shelves of black rock. Follow the trail for another 1.6 miles and you’ll wind up at sparkling Mosquito Beach.

Chapel Rock
Chapel Rock at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore | Adventures On Wheels/Shutterstock

Chapel Falls and Chapel Rock

Munising
Distance: Dealer's choice, but at least 6.2 miles for the good stuff
Difficulty: Intermediate
Best for: Instagrammers
Accommodations: The Up North classy Roam Inn has gorgeous terrace and a top=quality restaurant attached

If you start at that same trailhead as Mosquito Falls but turn right instead of left, you will follow a wide, flat trail 1.3 miles to Chapel Falls. You can go on another 1.8 miles from there to the highly Instagrammable Chapel Rock, and another 1.6 miles from that point to Spray Falls. The trails are easy and well-marked, though it's a long day if you decide to go all the way out and back.

You can also hike the 4.4-mile trail from Mosquito Beach to Chapel Beach, which runs alongside the 200ft sandstone bluffs on Lake Superior -- the "Pictured Rocks."

Tahquamenon Falls State Park

Paradise
Distance: 1.5 miles to 11 miles, out and back
Difficulty: Easy to intermediate
Best for: Photographers and people wanting to check sites off their Michigan bucket list. 
Accommodations: Camp at the state park, and don't skip the brewery in the gift shop 

Probably the most majestic of Michigan's waterfalls and one of the largest falls east of the Mississippi, the Upper Tahquamenon Falls drop nearly 50 feet and are more than 200 feet across. A quarter-mile paved pathway leads to the Upper Falls from a parking lot, but there is a 4-mile hiking trail along the Tahquamenon River to the Lower Falls for those looking for a bit more outdoor adventure. There are a total of 25 miles of hiking trails throughout the 52,000 acres of wilderness in this state park.

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Nicole Rupersburg is a freelance writer covering food, travel, arts, culture, and what-have-you. She winters in Las Vegas and summers in Detroit, as does anybody who's anybody. Her favorite activities include drinking beer and quoting Fight Club.
Megan Frye is an independent journalist and lover of the deep, dark woods. She wants you to know that your karaoke selection of “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” whilst imbibed seems like a much better idea in your head than it will to the bar, but that you should definitely do it anyway.